Thursday, November 10, 2016


At the Flume Burger Factory, in Chico, California, Joe Montana was front and center.  Customers could not miss “Cool Joe" painted on the wall, and especially while munching a delicious Flume Burger.  During the big game there was plenty of beer and fries too — and, of course — 49er football.

For the restaurant's uninitiated, however, there was just the burger and fries. Those folks did not watch football.
The restaurant, housed near Orient and Flume, is gone now. (The mural too.)  The wall painting, with the look of a freshman about it is not missed much.  But Joe is, for sure. Many still remember his performance in Super Bowl XIX. The San Francisco quarterback made it look like ballet.  But back in the day, during Super Bowl XVI, a reporter, a then-member of what could be called the "burger-and-fry guys," was not a fan.

“Go 49ers!” the repentant burger-and-fry guy yelled to another burger-and-fry guy after the team won Super Bowl XIX.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” a burger-and-fry guy said.

We burger-and-fry guys didn’t think much of football back in the day. 

Yes, Joe Montana and the 49ers (and let’s not forget Jerry Rice) were great fun — and it was great football, watching the San Francisco 49ers kick... — well, you know — but there is more to northern California than football, Giants’ baseball, and other stuff.  The burger-and-fry guys and gals (one female student now, anyway) had nothing to do with sports.  They were into Paul Ricoeur, and were huddled down in a campus building watching a guy at a chalkboard.

Of course, "Norm," the above mentioned football hating, burger-and-fry guy, wasn’t in the class, but a handful of other burger-and-fry guys (and gal) were, and they were doing wondrous things. They were learning how to study, read, and interpret the Bible (or at least one was). They were learning about hermeneutics and stuff.

In the book of over 350 pages, translated by Robert Czerny, Paul Ricoeur (Chair of General Philosophy at the University of Paris, la Sorbonne), helped put it all together (an interesting primer is shared below).

While Joe was out there at a playoff; or perhaps, during a local football game (a reporter forgets), the burger-and-fry people were at their desks, huddled against the darkness in an evening class.  Charles Winquist, a Religious Studies instructor at Cal State, Chico (who had required us to read Freud, Jung, and an eclectic group of writers, including Robert Funk and Rafael López-Pedraza), outlined his understanding of Paul Ricoeur's chapter on the chalkboard.

What Winquist was lecturing about this night, however, was impossible to understand, but among the geniuses one brave soul spoke up and asked: “What are you talking about?" 

If you have ever read a translation of Paul Ricoeur, or even looked at his work — a portion is shared below — you will understand the angst.  But there was more to it than this. Holt Hall was empty. Everyone on campus, and in the world, was either talking about football, watching football or playing football that school year.  The entire campus atmosphere was electrified with the 49ers and, of course, the burger-and-fry guys (and gal) could not accept this.  How could the campus ignore what really mattered?

Dear reader, please be patience.  What happened next cannot understood without quoting “The Rule of Metaphor.”  On page 299, Ricoeur said, “(that) the metaphorical utterance functions in two referential fields at once....”  Thus, there is a tension between the literal and the metaphorical.

Ricoeur said there was a  tension between the “terms” of statements as a whole.  Thus, the given tension between a literal interpretation and a metaphorical one creates a tension in the reference (or “meaning”) between what is, and what is not.

The duality, he said, explains how two levels of meaning are linked together in the symbol.  The first meaning relates to a known field of reference.  The second meaning, the one to be made apparent, relates to a referential field for which there is no direct characterization — a characterization people are usually unable to make because of the actual meaning of the word.

In Holt Hall that night, however, his was not sinking in.  Or at least not in the difficult lesson on the chalkboard.  Then something happened.  Charles Winquist began dissing football (all in relation to “superior us,” of course).  Football was a waste of time and stupid, he said (to paraphrase).

"People are out there jumping up and down, and for what?  It is ridiculous...."

The lecture, and what was written on the chalkboard, has mostly been forgotten, but the anti-football "explanation" is not.  It went on for another minute or two.  The person who asked the question stared slack jawed.

Metaphorical reality is hidden in words and symbols. "Word-events" alter contextual relationships, and how they affect us.  This is what he was talking about: language is a reflection of culture, self and history.  We shape it and we change it.

Metaphor becomes the power to re-describe reality,” a student read yet again, trying to figure it out. “Earlier analyses are not abandoned, however; we can still detect metaphors in the literal absurdity of statements and point to the words in which the metaphorical action is focused….  The metaphorical word, par excellence, is the copula: the “is” of the metaphorical statement contain(ing) an “is not...."

Take garbage, for example.  Garbage is trash.  Yet it can also mean how a person feels about another person's statement.  This is easily understood by all (and may have been felt by more than one student at that lecture), but not the context.  The lecture was as difficult after the question as it was before the question, but reading Ricoeur was not.

Still, no one went for a Flume Burger after class that night. There was another chapter to read....  But football took on renewed meaning.  Joe Montana could throw a football; and so could Charlie Winquist. 1

 1  Everyone probably received an “A” grade (the questioner did, anyway).  It is worth noting that Campus Security had to unlock the building; the students, and Professor Winquist, wandered Holt Hall looking for an open classroom (many rooms, including the lecture hall, were locked that night). There were only 5 or 6 of us.  We found a tiny room open on the south side of the building.

It had been frustrating — the fact that classes were scheduled, and buildings were closed….  Did the instructor hate football lovers?  Of course not, but at least one did.  The equation (shown above) was not shared that night.  Words linked by arrows and diagrams probably filled the chalkboard, but a’ over b’ — (“a” prime over “b” prime) — represent unknowns, and are ever present in communication.  This was yet another “tension” revealed in the lecture that night; metaphors divide human communication and understanding.

Individuals, and communities, still struggle to find meaning in shared words. Understanding metaphor can help stop communication from descending into meaninglessness, frustration and despair.  The lecture was brilliant, as was the man sharing it.

In Memory of Charles E. Winquist


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